The Five Types of Pain

Author: Lindsey Ulrich

Pain is a natural component of the healing process following illness, injury, or surgery. However, if pain persists, is more intense than normally expected, or lacks a discernable cause, it becomes its own “condition” and merits treatment.

The Pain Management Center at McLaren Greater Lansing consists of pain specialists who believe that, with an accurate diagnosis, pain can be eliminated or effectively managed.

“Patients experiencing pain, whether from an illness or injury, can be life-changing and can affect your overall activity level and lifestyle,” said Douglas Bez, DO, physician at the Pain Management Center at McLaren Greater Lansing. “Our goal is to get our patients back to doing the things they love to do.”

There are five common types of pain, but some pain can fit into more than one category.

Acute pain

Acute pain is relatively short in duration, lasting from minutes to as long as six months. Acute pain also tends to be related to a soft-tissue injury or a temporary illness, so it typically subsides after the injury heals or the illness subsides. Acute pain from an injury may evolve into chronic pain if the injury doesn’t heal correctly or if the pain signals malfunction.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is longer in duration and can be intermittent or constant. For example, headaches can be considered chronic pain when they continue over many months or years – even if the pain isn’t always present. Chronic pain is often due to a health condition, like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or a spine condition.

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain is due to damage to the nerves or other parts of the nervous system. It is often described as shooting, stabbing, or burning pain, or it feels like pins and needles. It can also affect sensitivity to touch and can make someone have difficulty feeling hot or cold sensations. Neuropathic pain is a common type of chronic pain. It may be intermittent but can also be so severe that it is difficult to perform everyday tasks. Because pain can interfere with normal movement, it can also lead to mobility issues. 

Nociceptive pain

Nociceptive pain is caused by damage to body tissue. It is often described as a sharp, achy, or throbbing pain. This type of pain is caused by an external injury. For example, if you hit your elbow, stub your toe, twist your ankle, or fall and scrape up your knee, you may feel nociceptive pain. This type of pain is often experienced in the joints, muscles, skin, tendons, and bones. It can be both acute and chronic.

Radicular pain

Radicular pain occurs when a spinal (sciatic) nerve gets compressed or inflamed. It’s commonly known as sciatica. This type of pain, known as radiculopathy, radiates from the back and hip into the leg(s) and is often constant and steady. Symptoms associated with radicular pain are tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness. Activities like walking and sitting can make sciatica worse.

“Pain is unique to each person, so every plan of care is tailored to the patients’ needs,” said Dr. Bez.

Pain Management physicians not only look for a solution to relieve current pain, but also for the source of the problem. Individuals typically can benefit from chronic pain management that suffer from:

  • Back pain, both upper and lower
  • Neck pain
  • Joint pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Headaches
  • Cancer pain
  • Pain caused by injury
  • Neuropathic pain

How Is Pain Diagnosed?

  • Pain consultation: During a pain consultation, your doctor will ask you:
  • Questions about the location, duration, and severity of your pain
  • How the pain is impacting your everyday activities
  • To describe your emotional well-being
  • To keep a pain diary documenting pain occurrence throughout the day

Only you know the degree of your pain, so being able to articulate the kind of pain you are experiencing is key for your doctor to determine how to move forward with care.

Additionally, patients will have a physical examination, do any diagnostic testing needed such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans, along with a psychological review on their emotional well-being.

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